Dishcrawl is a hot ticket for Toronto's foodies, with samplings at four different restaurants in one night. Just like its alcohol-based namesake, it's fun and friendly, but pace yourself if you want to make it home.
Pub crawls unite a group of similarly-minded individuals toward a common goal: to get a sampling of a few bars in a city, perhaps try something new, all the while getting sufficiently obliterated. The foodie equivalent, the Toronto Dishcrawl, operates in the same way—only instead of becoming immovably inebriated, participants in Dishcrawl are amped to become immovably full.
Toronto’s Dishcrawl is part of the larger Dishcrawl network, which began in the Bay Area of California in January of this year. Already the event, which brings a group of 50 locals or tourists to tastings at four different restaurants in one evening, has spread to 20 other cities. The first Toronto Dishcrawl was held in early October, and it has turned into one of the hottest tickets in town: the subsequent three evenings—including last night’s sophomore event, a third at the end of November, and a fourth in January—all sold out within an hour.
Last night’s culinary adventure focused on the stretch of King Street between Simcoe and Peter. We were surrounded with both beginner and more experienced Toronto foodies—foodies in the sense that they just really love food. “I’m gonna eat whatever I want tonight!” bellowed one enthusiastic fellow, as if about to shotgun a beer with a few of his bros. Clearly, as with its alcohol-based namesake, restraint wasn’t on the menu of this Dishcrawl.
Stop #1: Grindhouse Burger Bar
After splitting up into two groups of 25 diners, the Red Team heads off with Dishcrawl’s Toronto Ambassador Gretchen Wilson, a bubbly blonde who’s a corporate event planner by day. (The Blue Team is in the hands of her husband Zeion.) Most of Team A have come in pairs, but there are some groups of four or five. They mostly stick together in the tables of Grindhouse. Our host dishes out pints to some overzealous guests, and the rest of us quickly gobble our Yukon Gold and sweet potato fries with a smoky homemade ketchup, down a shot of cheddar ale soup, and bite into the S.C.U.B.A. (Self-Contained Unbelievable Burger Appetizer) snack. The well-dressed couple next to us explain their foodiness: they eat out for every meal. They do a special Dishcrawl shot, and it’s off to the next restaurant.
Stuffed Status: Pleasantly full. Judgment is still clear, mood is alert and even energized. The stroll to the next restaurant is helpful in making more room for the next meal.
The mood upon entering Milagro is already more easygoing between the Crawlers, the warm fuzzies of a burger and fries still tingling through our veins—or is blocking them? The rowdy group of five water-treatment coworkers, clearly the troublemakers here, laugh with their friend trying on a flashy red and gold sombrero. We head to our long communal table where the pitchers of sangria, not the water, start to flow as freely as the conversation. As diners make their own soft-shell tacos from the sharing plates in front of us, with pulled pork, chicken, lamb, and beans and rice for filler (“ingredients for a fiesta” according to our host), bonds form over their speed in snagging one of the 50 spots. “I think I got the last one!” “It was crazy, they were gone in five minutes!” Conversation turns to favourite restaurants, world travels, and each other’s celebrity doppelganger. “I think I’m becoming a foodie,” says a young U of T student, accompanied by her sister from Richmond Hill. They both try to resist a second helping from the plate, but the self-serve aspect of Milagro takes its toll on the rest of the diners, who make significant dents in theirs. As we get up to leave, the group is noticeably louder, and fuller. “We get more unruly as the night goes on!” announces one of the coworkers.
Stuffed Status: Two tacos doesn’t sound like a lot, but mixed with a glass of sangria and the previous snacks, we’re beginning to feel sluggish. We’re hoping for a long walk to the next destination, not only to make room in our bellies, but because the conversation is continuing from the table to the street.
Stop #3: Kama Classical Indian
The walk isn’t long enough. When we walk into Kama, apprehension levels rise. Usually Indian food is its own event, a meal that requires a small lunch before and a small breakfast after—and certainly not immediately following two meals and shortly before another. Guests find their seats around a square table, and are embarrassingly silent when asked for drink orders. Looks of shame and discomfort cross a few of our faces. Some Crawlers order beer, though its unclear if they really want them. A lady from the group of coworkers has a small portion of aloo papri chat and a piece of naan, and a waiter encourages her (forcefully) to try the butter chicken and basmati rice. Diners joke, half amused and half apologetic, about how much food is left in the metal dishes as we put on our jackets and head to the final stop of the evening.
Stuffed Status: A few brave souls made strong efforts in keeping the group’s energy thriving, but many of us are lagging. Eyes start to stare absently, lids begin to droop, backs slowly slouch, and legs feel like they drag. We could use a good walk, but the next restaurant is right next door. That’s probably for the best—we might have lost a few group members if any trekking was involved.
The Blue Team passes us, slowly ascending the stairs to street level from Big Daddy’s. We’re glad to see that we’re not the only ones feeling the weight of our stomachs holding us down. The layout of Big Daddy’s terrace separates us into plush chairs and couches grouped in small clusters, and the New Orleans decor calms us into a gluttonous lull. Still, we manage to find room for the jalapeño cornbread bruschetta, coconut shrimp with marmalade sauce, and a few pieces of cajun-fried alligator, because, well, it was there and smelled delicious. As with crawls of all types, the smart ones ended the night with glasses of water. But we all do things we’ll regret later.
Stuffed Status: There is a boulder in our belly and it is heavy. Four meals within two hours is a hefty feat, and we apologize to you Torontoist readers, we have let you down. When once we were cheerful and enthusiastic, we are now tired and spacy. In the best way possible, though. Our Dishcrawl experience was an overwhelmingly positive one—great food, and great company.
Bonus Round: Prairie Girl Bakery Cupcakes
As we make our way out the Big Daddy’s doors, we meet Zeion handing out our choice of chocolate or strawberry cupcakes, baked bundles of joy bigger than our fist. In handy takeaway boxes, we grab a strawberry and hop on the streetcar home.
Stuffed Status: We can’t really look at the pink frosted beauty now, but tomorrow is a new day, after all. And we will live to snack again.
Photos by Gretchen Wilson.